JARON LANIER QUOTES

American writer & computer scientist (1960- )

A heavenly idea comes up a lot in what might be called Silicon Valley metaphysics. We anticipate immortality through mechanization. A common claim in utopian technology culture is that people--well, perhaps not everyone--will be uploaded into cloud computing servers later in this century, perhaps in a decade or two, to become immortal in Virtual Reality. Or, if we are to remain physical, we will be surrounded by a world animated with robotic technology. We will float from joy to joy, even the poorest among us living like a sybaritic magician. We will not have to call forth what we wish from the world, for we will be so well modeled by statistics in the computing clouds that the dust will know what we want.

JARON LANIER, Who Owns the Future?

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Tags: immortality


When children are growing up, they face a profound conflict between the internal world of their dreams and imagination, in which everything's possible and fluid, and the practical world in which they have parents, food, and friends, in which they're not alone, and in which they can survive. So as kids grow up, they have to gradually de-emphasize this world of imagination and celebration and emphasize the practical world, unless they're willing to be alone in their insanity and completely dependent on others for survival. Of course it's possible to integrate the two, but it's so hard, like walking a tightrope. I think the reason that kids instinctively love computers, and especially love virtual reality, is that it really does present a new solution, a way to make imaginary worlds that we can be together in, just like the real world.

JARON LANIER, Spin Magazine, November 1995

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The beauty of HTML was that one-way linking made it very simple to spread because you could put something up and take no responsibility whatsoever. And that creates a society in which people display no responsibility whatsoever. That's the problem.

JARON LANIER, "Jaron Lanier: the digital pioneer who became a web rebel", The Observer, March 16, 2013

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The whole idea of a job is entirely social construct. The United States was built on slave labor. Those people didn't have jobs, they were just slaves. The idea of a job is that you can participate in a formal economy even if you're not a baron. That there can be, that everybody can participate in the formal economy and the benefit of having everybody participate in the formal economy, there are annoyances with the formal economy because capitalism is really annoying sometimes. But the benefits are really huge, which is you get a middle-class distribution of wealth and clout so the mass of people can outspend the top, and if you don't have that you can't really have democracy. Democracy is destabilized if there isn't a broad distribution of wealth.

JARON LANIER, "Jaron Lanier: The Internet Destroyed the Middle Class", Salon, May 12, 2013

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Tags: work


The most effective young Facebook users, however -- the ones who will probably be winners if Facebook turns out to be a model of the future they will inhabit as adults -- are the ones who create successful online fictions about themselves.

JARON LANIER, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto

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At the turn of the [21st] century it was really Sergey Brin at Google who just had the thought of, well, if we give away all the information services, but we make money from advertising, we can make information free and still have capitalism. But the problem with that is it reneges on the social contract where people still participate in the formal economy. And it's a kind of capitalism that's totally self-defeating because it's so narrow. It's a winner-take-all capitalism that's not sustaining.

JARON LANIER, "Jaron Lanier: The Internet Destroyed the Middle Class", Salon, May 12, 2013

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A fashionable idea in technical circles is that quantity not only turns into quality at some extreme of scale, but also does so according to principles we already understand. Some of my colleagues think a million, or perhaps a billion, fragmentary insults will eventually yield wisdom that surpasses that of any well-thought-out essay, so long as sophisticated secret statistical algorithms recombine the fragments. I disagree. A trope from the early days of computer science comes to mind: garbage in, garbage out.

JARON LANIER, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto

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You have to remember that virtual reality won't be mature for everyday use for decades perhaps, and we don't know what the real situation will be like then. It will undoubtedly be different, so to talk about how it can help, we have to talk about the present and talk about computers. I'll tell you how I think about the economic role of computers, and this might be a little cynical, but I think it's actually pretty accurate. In the industrial revolution, which is still continuing in less developed parts of the world, machines were created that replaced human labor and created free time for people. But our economic system is based on earned capital, so that if you have this free time, you also don't earn any money to buy food. And this creates a crisis. The question is, if you're going to create all this leisure time with all these industrial machines, how do you justify paying people within a capitalist system so that they can survive? I think computers are the answer. I think computers are this sort of massive work program that keeps everybody busy manipulating information, and thus able to earn their bread.

JARON LANIER, Spin Magazine, November 1995

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Tags: virtual reality


The most important thing about a technology is how it changes people.

JARON LANIER, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto

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Tags: technology


I think seeking perfection in human affairs is a perfect way to destroy them.

JARON LANIER, "Jaron Lanier: The Internet Destroyed the Middle Class", Salon, May 12, 2013

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Tags: perfection


You have to be somebody before you can share yourself.

JARON LANIER, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto

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As information technology becomes millions of times more powerful, any particular use of it becomes correspondingly cheaper. Thus, it has become commonplace to expect online services (not just news, but 21st century treats like search or social networking) to be given for free, or rather, in exchange for acquiescence to being spied on.

JARON LANIER, Who Owns the Future?

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A file-sharing service and a hedge fund are essentially the same things. In both cases, there's this idea that whoever has the biggest computer can analyze everyone else to their advantage and concentrate wealth and power. It's shrinking the overall economy. I think it's the mistake of our age.

JARON LANIER, "What Turned Jaron Lanier Against the Web?", Smithsonian Magazine, January 2013

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Anonymous blog comments, vapid video pranks and lightweight mash-ups may seem trivial and harmless, but as a whole, this widespread practice of fragmentary, impersonal communication has demeaned personal interaction.

JARON LANIER, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto

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When developers of digital technologies design a program that requires you to interact with a computer as if it were a person, they ask you to accept in some corner of your brain that you might also be conceived of as a program.

JARON LANIER, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto

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Tags: artificial intelligence


Siren Servers are narcissists; blind to where value comes from, including the web of global interdependence that is at the core of their own value.

JARON LANIER, Who Owns the Future?

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A real friendship ought to introduce each person to unexpected weirdness in the other.

JARON LANIER, You Are Not a Gadget

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Tags: friendship


If we think about the technologies purely in the terms of sort of an artificial intelligence framework, where we say, "Well, if the machine does it, then it's as if nobody has to do anything anymore," then we create two problems that are utterly unnecessary. There's a microeconomic problem, and there's a macroeconomic problem. The microeconomic problem is that we're pretending that the people who do the real work don't exist anymore. But then the macroeconomic level also has to be considered. If we are saying that we're automating the world--which is what happens when you make technology more advanced, and therefore there will be more and more use of these corpora driving artificial intelligence algorithms to do everything, including bread making--if we're saying that the information that drives all this is supposed to be off the books, if we're saying that it's the free stuff, it's not part of the economy, it's only the sort of starter material or the promotional material or whatever ancillary thing it might be, if the core value is actually treated as an epiphenomenon, what will happen is the better technology gets, the smaller the economy will get, because more and more of the real value will be forced off the books. So the real economy will start to shrink. And it won't just shrink uniformly; it'll shrink around whoever has the biggest routing computers that manage that data.

JARON LANIER, "Jaron Lanier: We're Being Enslaved by Free Information", IEEE Spectrum, Jul. 16, 2013

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I don't hate anything about e-books or e-book readers or tablets. There's a lot of discussion about that, and I think it's misplaced. The problem I have is whether we believe in the book itself. To me a book is not just a particular file. It's connected with personhood. Books are really, really hard to write. They represent a kind of summit of grappling with what one really has to say. And what I'm concerned with is when Silicon Valley looks at books, they often think of them as really differently as just data points that you can mush together. They're divorcing books from their role in personhood.

JARON LANIER, "Jaron Lanier: The Internet Destroyed the Middle Class", Salon, May 12, 2013

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Tags: books


To my mind an overleveraged unsecured mortgage is exactly the same thing as a pirated music file. It's somebody's value that's been copied many times to give benefit to some distant party. In the case of the music files, it's to the benefit of an advertising spy like Google [which monetizes your search history], and in the case of the mortgage, it's to the benefit of a fund manager somewhere. But in both cases all the risk and the cost is radiated out toward ordinary people and the middle classes--and even worse, the overall economy has shrunk in order to make a few people more.

JARON LANIER, "What Turned Jaron Lanier Against the Web?", Smithsonian Magazine, January 2013

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